Chicken Tikka Masala


This colorful Indian dish gets its flavor from healing herbs and spices. Turmeric, ginger, and chili pepper reduce inflammation. Garlic, cinnamon and fennel promote good digestion and help dispel gas. And tomatoes are full of antioxidants like lycopene, which can help protect against cancer.

Daunting as it may sound, Chicken Tikka Masala is easy to make at home. Marinating the chicken in yogurt and spices overnight really keeps the chicken tender and juicy after cooking. I serve it in an aromatic tomato cream sauce, but you can substitute coconut milk if you want a dairy-free dish.

I made my own Garam Masala, a fragrant blend of Indian spices (recipe follows). I like to grind spices myself because they have the most flavor when they're freshest. If you lack the ingredients, equipment, time, or desire to make it  yourself, use a store-bought blend instead.

(In New York City, my favorite spice shop is Kalustyan's on Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets. While you're there, don't miss the urfa biber or freshly dried curry leaves.)

For the marinade (make in advance):

1/2 cup grass-fed/organic whole-milk yogurt
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root
1 tbsp Garam Masala
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 pounds boneless pasture-raised chicken (breasts or thighs), cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks

Mix together all of the ingredients except the chicken. Once it's well-combined, toss the yogurt sauce with the chicken pieces and coat them thoroughly. Store them in a covered glass container in the fridge overnight.

For the meal:

1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or grass-fed/organic butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated ginger or more to taste
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp Garam Masala
Sea salt
3 cups crushed tomatoes
 1/2 cup grass-fed/organic heavy cream
Fresh cilantro, chopped, or substitute parsley

Bring the chicken pieces to room temperature before cooking.

Melt the ghee or butter in a skillet with a heavy bottom over medium-low heat. (For this dish I like to finely chop my onion in the food processor but you can also do it by hand.) Add the onion to the melted butter and cook until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the ginger and garlic. Cook until the garlic becomes aromatic, then stir in the Garam Masala. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking. Stir occasionally and once the mixture starts to stick to the bottom, or when it becomes very soft, stir in the sea salt, then the tomatoes. Stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Stir in the cream and taste for seasoning. Adjust if necessary, then cover and warm over lowest heat until the chicken is ready.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler. Use clean hands to wipe most of the marinade off the chicken pieces before transferring them to a baking sheet. If you can, avoid dripping marinade onto the baking sheet because it may burn. Broil the chicken until golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your pieces.

If your chicken is cooked through (the juices should run clear and the center should not be pink) you can serve it on top of the sauce, garnished with cilantro. Or you can stir it into the sauce, along with the cilantro.

If you aren't yet ready to eat the chicken, or if you're not sure it's thoroughly cooked, toss the pieces back into the sauce, cover the pan, and cook it a bit longer on the stove top.

When you're ready to eat and the chicken is thoroughly cooked, stir in chopped cilantro or parsley, as much as you like. Garnish with more fresh herbs if you like and serve immediately.